Friday, October 3, 2014

Opera Transcriptions

No. 167 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Our October programming on the Friday Blog and Podcast is entirely dedicated to opera, with some orchestral and sung selections planned for later podcasts, and even some complete operas. This week, however, we will explore the world of opera transcriptions for piano.
During the 19th century the piano transcription became popular for several reasons - the bourgeoisie grew in number and wealth, they were interested in symphonic and chamber music; the availability, quality, and affordability of attending ensemble music was not able to keep pace with this interest. Since recording technology would need another hundred years to catch up and that pianos were commonplace in the houses of wealthy people, piano transcriptions filled this gap with transcribers turning old and new popular works into arrangements involving one or two players.

Two of my earliest posts for OperaLively explored this very subject, with a particular look at transcriptions by Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg who not only made their mark in this genre, but were also the two dominant virtuosi of their era. As I said in those posts, it is quite natural for them to have used opera as the seed for their inspiration, as these were popular “tunes” for the day, and thus a familiar point of departure for them to show off their talents – both as virtuosi and as musical thinkers.

The sources for these transcriptions include some the 19th century’s prominent opera composers: Wagner, Rossini and Donizetti. I also inserted an excerpt of music from Glinka’s “A Life for the Tsar” (re-imagined by Balakirev). Other than Thalberg and Liszt, some of the transcribers include Moritz Moszkowski and  Henri Herz, who could also impress audiences with their own piano virtuosity.
As luck would have it, the works on today’s program were entrusted to a pair of great piano virtuosi of the 20th century: Cuban pianist Jorge Bolet and American pianist Earl Wild. In both cases, these kinds of virtuoso showpieces found their way into their live recitals (as some of the audience reaction attests).

I think you will love this music too.

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